How to Destroy Democracy: SF Bay Area event Jan 10 with Masha Gessen and Drew Sullivan

We hope you can join us for this urgent conversation hosted by Institute for the Future, where Mark Frauenfelder and I are researchers:

Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California invites you to join us January 10, 2017 for an eye-opening discussion about global politics, corruption, and our best hope for preserving civic society featuring:

• Masha Gessen, author of The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot

• Drew Sullivan, co-founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)

• plus additional investigative journalists from Russia and Eastern Europe.

Right-wing populist parties and autocratic leaders are gaining power in many countries, from France and Russia to Hungary and Poland. This trend long predates the recent U.S. elections that have added fuel to the fire. How did we get here? What are the real stories behind the headlines? This is a rare opportunity to hear first-hand from journalists who risk their lives analyzing the multi-trillion dollar criminal economy and uncovering corruption around the globe.

This group of journalists, along with other experts from the realms of media, academia, policy, and technology, are in the Bay Area to participate in a private convening hosted by the Institute for the Future in partnership with the Skoll Foundation and OCCRP. The convening, called The Future of Democracy: Preserving A Vibrant Civic Media, will result in a public roadmap of initiatives to preserve an open civic dialogue and strengthen democracy for everyone.

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Policy-by-nudging unsupported by evidence, and undemocratic

In a New Scientist op-ed, Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi take aim at the trendy idea of "nudging" people towards healthy, socially beneficial choices. The authors find the evidence for the effectiveness of nudging isn't supported by the literature, and policy-by-nudging misses the key to good governance: an informed citizenry who are part of the solution, not the problem to be solved.

This points to the key problem with "nudge" style paternalism: presuming that technocrats understand what ordinary people want better than the people themselves. There is no reason to think technocrats know better, especially since Thaler and Sunstein offer no means for ordinary people to comment on, let alone correct, the technocrats' prescriptions. This leaves the technocrats with no systematic way of detecting their own errors, correcting them, or learning from them. And technocracy is bound to blunder, especially when it is not democratically accountable.

As political scientist Suzanne Mettler, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, argues, libertarian paternalism treats people as consumers rather than citizens. It either fails to tell people why choices are set up in particular ways, or actively seeks to conceal the rationale. When, for example, Obama's administration temporarily cut taxes to stimulate the economy, it did so semi-surreptitiously to encourage people to spend rather than save.

Mettler uses experiments to show how ordinary people can understand complicated policy questions and reach considered conclusions, as long as they get enough information. This suggests a far stronger role for democratic decision-making than libertarian paternalism allows. People should be given information, and allowed to reach conclusions about their own interests, and how to structure choices to protect those interests.

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